Last month both Gillette and the American Psychological Association tackled “toxic masculinity.”
Gillette suggested in a controversial commercial that all men, except for those sufficiently “woke,” are sexual deviants, bullies, or some other form of knuckle-dragging lowlife unfit for civil society.
The APA, meanwhile, issued a paper saying “socialization for conforming to traditional” -- read toxic -- “masculinity ideology” had stunted men emotionally, made them more prone to violence and subsequently discipline, caused health problems that routinely shortened their lifespans, and produced other unwelcome outcomes.
The APA’s solution: more men need to have their heads examined.
Admittedly, some men can be unwashed louts, and such behavior ought to be criticized and corrected.
But detoxifying men partly involves stripping society of single-sex cultural outlets and focusing more attention on women, giving men fewer spaces to call their own. We should question that approach.
For example, the Associated Press reported Feb. 12 that three female students filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Yale University to force open all-male fraternities -- even though Yale has sororities for women.
The plaintiffs claimed the frats’ “Animal House” behavior exposed them to sexual harassment. Fair enough. That’s rotten and must be stopped, and Yale’s administration must atone for failure to correct.
But the women also complained about “being shut out of the social and economic benefits offered by all-male fraternities, including access to vast alumni networks that can help land coveted jobs,” the AP noted. So, as if they didn’t have enough of an advantage over the rest of us schlubs by going to Yale, these women believe integrating fraternities, without a related twist for sororities, is necessary as a jobs program.
Meanwhile, February has produced a wave of stories from across the country about the formation of all-girl Boy Scout troops. As of Feb. 1, the Scouts began accepting girls from fifth grade on, and young ladies are responding in droves to remake an institution that for a century chartered a rite for passage for countless young American males.
Last month, conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald drew considerable blowback from men and women when she wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal arguing that the Pentagon had erred in 2015 by allowing women into all-male combat units because it meant decreased performance standards and increased fraternization between the sexes.
That, as well as the Yale and Boy Scouts stories, appeared after reports of girls’ increased participation in boys’ sports -- not necessarily by competing in all-girls leagues for football or wrestling, although that has happened. Girls instead actually compete on teams with and against boys.
Spotlighting these instances is not to say women should be denied opportunities, or aren’t as capable as men, or that we return to the “bad old days” -- although many will assuredly misconstrue it that way.
Rather, the point is that the rush to abolish remaining barriers between the sexes doesn’t appear to consider the psychological effects on boys and men.
Many evolutionary psychologists think “traditional” male behavior -- seeking adventure, taking risks, acting aggressively -- is not learned but inherent by evolution and biology. Ironically, they also argue women, by evolution and biology, are more attracted to this type of behavior than to the Gillette model.
Yet increasingly American males are told they’re wrong and sexist for such behavior, for wanting to segregate, for behaving boorishly when women are introduced into previously all-male enclaves, and for turning radical feminism around and demanding equal access to things set aside for women.
Atop such scoldings, now the APA suggests that males doing what comes naturally, so to speak, is a mental disorder. That’s an unhealthy message to convey.
Gillette’s point is actually not new. Back in 1996, Carol Gilligan, who became Harvard’s first gender studies professor in the early 1980s, wrote that society would benefit if boys eschewed “cultures that value or valorize heroism, honor, war, and competition -- the culture of warriors, the economy of capitalism.”
In 2000, feminist scholar Christina Hoff Sommers offered a counter argument. Sommers wrote in The Atlantic that to “civilize boys by diminishing their masculinity ... is deeply disrespectful of boys.” She added, “A boy today, through no fault of his own, finds himself implicated in the social crime of shortchanging girls.”
In addition, Sommers added, “Boys are competitive and often aggressive, yes; but anyone in close contact with them — parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, friends — gets daily proof of their humanity, loyalty, and compassion. ... Boys do not need to be rescued from their masculinity.”
Yet two decades later, we seek to do just that, without fully knowing the consequences of a brave new world that is unlike the world we’ve known since humanity began.
Bill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.